Synopses & Reviews
Marti Leimbach’s first novel, Dying Young
, was called “a masterpiece of details that always ring true, with the sad, funny and fascinating unpredictability of real life.” With the same talent and perception, Leimbach’s new novel takes the reader to London, to the home of the Marshes: Stephen Marsh, a true Brit; Melanie, a transplanted American; and their two children, four-year-old Emily and Daniel, just three. When it is conveyed that Daniel is autistic, the orderly life of the Marsh family is shattered.
Melanie is determined to fight to teach Daniel to speak, play and become as “normal” as possible. Her enchanting disposition has already helped her weather other of life’s storms, but Daniel’s autism may just push her over the brink, destroying her resolute optimism and bringing her unsteady marriage to an inglorious end. The situation is not helped by Stephen’s far-from-supportive parents, who proudly display the family tree with Melanie’s name barely penciled in, and who remain disconcertingly attached to Stephen’s ex-fiancée, a woman apparently intent on restaking her claim on Stephen. Melanie does have one strong ally in Andy, a talented and off-the-wall play therapist who specializes in teaching autistic children. Andy proves that Daniel is far more capable than anyone imagined, and Melanie finds herself drawn to him even as she staggers toward resolving her marriage.
Daniel Isn’t Talking is a moving, deeply absorbing story of a family in crisis. What sets it apart from most fiction about difficult subjects is the author’s ability to write about a sad and frightening situation with a seamless blend of warmth, compassion and humor.
"Leimbach (Dying Young) notes on the back of the galley that she has modeled her title character on her own autistic son; the result is moving, frequently funny and never mawkish. The novel is narrated by Melanie Marsh, an American woman living in England who seems to have it all: Stephen, a rich if somewhat starchy husband; Emily, a vivacious daughter; and an adorable son named Daniel. But after a normal infancy, Daniel is beginning to behave strangely throwing tantrums, walking on his toes, still seeking his mother's breast and refusing to talk. As Melanie unravels, Stephen remains in denial, until the dreaded diagnosis of autism is delivered. The marriage falls apart, but Melanie does not. She embarks on a frustrating, heroic mission to get the best treatment for her son, eventually entrusting his care to Andy O'Connor, a behaviorist with a dubious reputation. But his unorthodox methods get results, and soon, a bit too predictably, a romance blossoms between Andy and Melanie. While the novel lacks the literary ambition of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Leimbach does succeed in making us care about Daniel and his progress." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
A fearless, unsentimental novel about a mother’s devotion to her autistic child, by the bestselling author of Dying Young
. Simultaneous international publication.
Smart, resilient, engaged with the world, Melanie Marsh has already weathered the suicide of her father, the death of her mother, and the loss of her lover, but she has not lost the thrill of adventure or her wry sense of humour. When she comes to England to study, Melanie meets Stephen, a financial analyst, and is drawn immediately to his strong presence. Marriage and family quickly follow, as well as a certain happiness, until Melanie’s worst suspicions are confirmed about their three-year-old son, Daniel. Daniel has autism and the prognosis is grim. Frustrated by the limits of the medical system, Melanie takes Daniel’s care into her own hands and devotes all she has to working with him. Her marriage soon begins to falter and Stephen eventually turns to a former lover. It is at about this time that she seeks out Andy O’Connor, an alternative therapist whose controversial approach to autism she’s heard something about. It is Andy’s creativity, his patience and caring, that enable her son’s progress, and for the first time, hope, in many forms, takes root.
Passionate, moving, heartbreakingly real, Marti Leimbach’s new novel reveals a mother’s desperation and the capacities of love, demonstrating once again Leimbach’s gift for storytelling and for portraying characters we come to care deeply about.
Marti Leimbachs first novel, Dying Young
, was called “a masterpiece of details that always ring true, with the sad, funny and fascinating unpredictability of real life.” With the same talent and perception, Leimbachs new novel takes the reader to London, to the home of the Marshes: Stephen Marsh, a true Brit; Melanie, a transplanted American; and their two children, four-year-old Emily and Daniel, just three. When it is conveyed that Daniel is autistic, the orderly life of the Marsh family is shattered.
Melanie is determined to fight to teach Daniel to speak, play and become as “normal” as possible. Her enchanting disposition has already helped her weather other of lifes storms, but Daniels autism may just push her over the brink, destroying her resolute optimism and bringing her unsteady marriage to an inglorious end. The situation is not helped by Stephens far-from-supportive parents, who proudly display the family tree with Melanies name barely penciled in, and who remain disconcertingly attached to Stephens ex-fiancée, a woman apparently intent on restaking her claim on Stephen. Melanie does have one strong ally in Andy, a talented and off-the-wall play therapist who specializes in teaching autistic children. Andy proves that Daniel is far more capable than anyone imagined, and Melanie finds herself drawn to him even as she staggers toward resolving her marriage.
Daniel Isnt Talking is a moving, deeply absorbing story of a family in crisis. What sets it apart from most fiction about difficult subjects is the authors ability to write about a sad and frightening situation with a seamless blend of warmth, compassion and humor.
When Melanie Marsh learns that her son is autistic, she becomes determined to teach him to speak, play, and become as "normal" as possible in this deeply moving story about a sad and frightening situation that's infused with warmth, compassion, and humor.
About the Author
MARTI LEIMBACH is the author of several novels, including the international bestseller Dying Young, which was made into a major motion picture starring Julia Roberts. Born in Washington, D.C., she attended the Creative Writing program at the University of California, Irvine, and Harvard University. She currently lives in England and teaches at Oxford Universitys Creative Writing program.
Reading Group Guide
Daniel Isnt Talking
is a novel about a woman who discovers her young son is autistic. It is taken in part from my own life as I went through a similar experience five years ago when my son was diagnosed with autism. About my son: I can tell you I was certain there was something wrong with him for some time before the actual diagnosis. I used to ask the doctors about these obscure symptoms. Why does he walk on his toes, Id ask. Why does he grind his teeth like that? Why doesnt he sleep at night? Or eat for that matter? I mean, surely he should eat? And why doesnt he talk?
And then one day the answer came and I wished Id never asked the questions. “Because he is autistic,” I was told.
Autism in a child does not affect only that child. It affects a whole family. Suddenly, everything in my life was different. My normally wonderful husband became remote, unhelpful. The only way I could be sure he took in what I had to say was if I texted him on his mobile. His relatives went around saying things like, “Well, we have no history of autism in our family.” My own relatives, who are not warm and fuzzy people, werent much help either. My aunt thought it was my own fault for having a baby so late in life (I was thirty-three). My sister would say things like, “Wow, hes autistic. So I guess youre going to have to do something with him.”
Do something with him? I hate to think what she had in mind.
But, yes, I had to do something. And just like the character Melanie in Daniel Isnt Talking I found myself scrambling to figure out what.
But of course, the novel is not a memoir, and what Melanie does in Daniel Isnt Talking ends up being far more entertaining than anything in my actual life. Take, for example, the rather delicious Irish guy with whom she falls in love. I can tell you no such man has ever entered my house. I guess thats just as well because my husband is in my house. Eventually he dethawed and returned to being the nice guy he usually is.
In fact, very few of the events of the novel ever happened in my life, but the great thing about fiction is that you can take subject matter as difficult as that in Daniel Isnt Talking and fill it with humor, with surprises, with events that escort the reader gently through the minefield which has become these characters lives. I positively loved writing the novel and I feel a particular affinity to it. I admire the main character, Melanie. She was so much braver than I was at the time of my sons diagnosis. I fell in love with the therapist who shows her how to teach her son. And of course the Daniel in the novel is so much like my own son, Nicholas, and brought back memories of the day Nicky finally said his first word–at the age of three years and two months–and how hard he fought to learn the simple things that other children take for granted.
So, this is an important book for me. The latest statistics reveal that one in every 165 families has a child on the autistic spectrum, so I know that the book is going to touch the hearts of many people. I hope it will also touch parents who find that it is sometimes difficult to connect with their children.
For more information on Autism or to make a donation to Autism Research please contact Autism Speaks at www.autismspeaks.org.
1. There are occasional flashbacks throughout the novel that give a glimpse of what Melanie was like before she had children. How would you describe her character before she became a mother? How has she changed?
2. Melanie and Stephens house empties out of possessions as Melanie sells their things to pay for Daniels various therapies and other needs. What does Melanie mean when she says, “Im in a different market than the rest of the world”?
3. How are the subjects of race and class treated in the novel?
4. Andy says he understands Melanie as an “autism mom.” What is the implication of this term? How might Andys perception of “autism moms” be different than that of most people Melanie encounters?
5. When Melanie tells Veena about Daniels diagnosis, she makes an outright appeal for Veenas compassion and sympathy. Instead, Veena says, “You are a white woman living in a white womans paradise. This is not the worst thing that can happen.” What does Veena mean by this and why would Melanie find the words comforting?
6. How do you describe the connection between Melanie and Veena? How are these apparently very different women similar? What about their circumstances helps them to understand each other? Would they have been friends if Daniel were normal?
7. Early in the novel Melanie thinks she may be “unstable.” Would you agree with that? Following Daniels diagnosis, does she seem more or less “stable” to the world around her? To you as reader?
8. On the morning of Daniels diagnosis Melanies immediate reaction to the diagnosis is to say, “I feel that a change has taken place. I cannot help but feel as though I started the journey this morning with my beloved little boy and am returning with a slightly alien, uneducable time bomb.” How has Daniels diagnosis temporarily changed his mothers perception of him? What examples can be seen of her resisting this changed perception? How has Stephens view of his son been altered by the diagnosis?
9. How does Daniels diagnosis affect his sister, Emily? In what ways does Melanie try to shield Emily from the full implications of having a brother with autism? In what ways is she successful? In what ways is she not successful?
10. In what ways was Stephens departure useful in helping Daniel? In the long run, was Stephens departure a good thing for Daniel? For Emily? How might things have been different for the children if Stephen had stayed?
11. At the end of the novel Melanie states that Stephen “has shifted all blame for our marriage onto me. On to my whims and desires. At the same time he has cleverly cast his bid. He is smart. Maybe that is what I found so attractive about him. I do not find it so attractive now.” How has Stephen made Melanie feel responsible for the failure of their marriage? Do you think she is to blame?
12. Melanie says that Andy “has touched a part of me that was dying and brought it to life once more. This belongs to him.” What does Melanie means by this statement? What is the unusual nature of Melanie and Andys connection and deepening relationship? What do they know about each others families and backgrounds? Does this matter?
13. In Chapter 23 Melanie sees a group of young women at a bus stop. About one of them she says, “I want to tell her that she is a woman of great virtue. A woman of grace. That I admire her. And that I see her differently than perhaps she sees herself. Now that I have truly seen her, now that I have taken notice.” In what sense has Melanie “truly seen” this young woman? What stops her from speaking to the woman?
14. How is the readers experience of the novel affected by the knowledge that Marti Leimbach, herself, is an “autism mom?”